The North Carolina Tar Heels are searching for answers after suffering their largest defeat of the season at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday. Welcome to Part II of what’s wrong with the Tar Heels. Click HERE for Part I of the series
In part I we discussed the lack of true post threat and point guard play. Here let’s discuss some other key reasons why UNC is on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Lack of ball handlers: This is the single biggest factor in the offenses struggles in the half court in my opinion. Bigger than not having a post player to throw the ball into on each trip down the floor because if this team did have that type of player they would still struggle to get that player into position without ball handlers. Of the current roster the team really only has one “slasher” in Dexter Strickland and Strickland is not the same as he used to be. P.J. Hairston could be that guy if he was given a chance to play more than 19 minutes per game and round out his offensive repertoire.
The perimeter talent is great on this team but they are largely one dimensional in that they rely on the jump shot, specifically the three point shot far too much. Let’s look at the stats of the Heels top three perimeter players (only one of which starts but we’ll tackle that in a minute). Reggie Bullock has attempted 229 field goals this season of which 123 were three pointers (53.7%), P.J. Hairston has attempted 199 FGs of which 123 were three pointers (61.8%) Leslie McDonald has attempted 123 FGs of which 71 were three pointers (57.7%) as a whole the trio have attempted 551 FGs of which 317 were three pointers for a grand total of 57.5%.
I chose to exclude Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland and J.P. Tokoto from this formula, Paige fits the bill with 48% of his FG attempts coming from beyond the arc while Strickland and Tokoto flat out can’t shoot anything. What this all adds up to is the fact that Carolina is playing like a traditional Duke team without a true post player and without anyone that can score off the dribble. Without these threats the reliance on the three ball has become a problem and the results in the half court are horrific against winning programs who know how to defend the perimeter. Just look at the scoring totals against Indiana (59), Texas (67), Virginia (52), Miami (59, 61) these teams took away the three ball thus shutting down the Tar Heels offense thus crippling their attack.
Rotation: This topic continues to puzzle me and is the most talked about and examined subject this season. It’s blatantly obvious the three best players on the UNC roster are James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. Yet, they have only played 16% of the time together on the court. Roy Williams has insisted that he starts the best five players yet the stats indicate the exact opposite. In ACC games this season UNC’s starting five has an offensive efficiency of 76.1 (105 points in 138 possessions). All other line-ups have an OE of 107.2.
Strickland is no longer the defensive stopper he used to be and has settled for far too many ugly fad away jump shots instead of getting to the basket. I’ve searched for any realistic justification for starting him and playing him an average of seven minutes more than Hairston and the fact is one does not exist. I remain convinced that a simple switch of Hairston for Strickland in the starting lineup with Dex backing up Paige at the point and Leslie McDonald playing the role of sixth man is best for this team.
Onto the center position. I like Desmond Hubert as a developmental player, every roster needs a couple, but this kid is nowhere near starter material. Understanding that he only plays 12 minutes per game he is a big reason why Carolina starts out behind in many contests as one of two players virtually incapable of scoring. In 23 games this season, 18 of which Hubert has started he has attempted a mere 29 shots and averages 1.4 points per game. When the starting lineup features three players (Paige, Strickland, Hubert) that combine for 15.9 ppg any team would be in trouble. Inserting Brice Johnson in the starting lineup who averages 7.3 points in just 12.6 minutes on 54.9% shooting makes sense. His defensive liabilities aside, if you can’t score you are going to get beat.
Sadly I’m beginning to think that we may never know how good this team could really be simply because of the puzzling fact that the best players don’t play together.